By Jorge Figueiredo - January 26th, 2015


‎I am a sucker for a game with a great story, especially a tale with a folksy twist. Kalimba, developed by Press Play for the Xbox One, tells a decent tale and keeps players hooked with its clever, twitchy, dual-character colour-based puzzle-platforming mechanics. While there are moments of head-scratching frustration, Kalimba is enjoyable overall, and thanks to co-op game-play, has extended value for those who enjoy sharing their gaming experiences with a friend. This game is a no-frills thrill that reinforces that age-old adage: practice makes perfect.

‎Kalimba begins with the story of a peaceful island village looked after by the Shaman Lady. Of course, it wouldn’t be a real story if there was no conflict, right? The island of Kalimba falls prey to an evil shaman, who destroys the village’s Totem, scattering the pieces around the island, consequently plunging it into darkness. The Shaman Lady, who managed to survive the ordeal, finds two animal totems (pieces of the original‎ whole) and works with them to bring light back to the island by finding all of the totem pieces in the hope of reassembling them back to their original state.

Watch out for those colour gates!

Like many puzzle-platformers, the goal is to make your way from A to Z while collecting goodies. However, the twist is that you control two character‎s simultaneously (each level is split horizontally into two halves, with one totem using thr top half of the screen while the other uses the bottom). Variants of this have been done in the past. For instance, in So Many Me, the primary character is directed according to the player with clones following in behind (in the exact same path), and in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, each of the main characters is controlled with a different thumbstick. Kalimba, on the other hand, ups the ante by having both characters controlled with the same thumbstick – but they are navigating different paths, each with their own set of hazards. Margin for error is a little tighter than with the other games, what with the simultaneous nature of the setup.‎

Press Play keeps things interesting by introducing a double jump when the totems are actually vertically aligned (the top totem leaps off of the apex of the bottom totem’s jump), making for some mind-bending fun. Complicating matters even further is the swapping mechanic, which allows you to ‎press a button and cause the totems to switch places. While this may seem like an odd gimmick (both totems have the same abilities, after all), it makes a lot more sense when you are introduced to the colour gates. The colour gates limit the entry of characters, only allowing same-coloured characters as the gates to pass through. Thus, if there is a green colour gate, only the green animal totem may pass through – purple will simply disintegrate and you will be reset back to the last checkpoint. For the most part, these colour gates can be conquered with a little bit of a pause and a plan – but sometimes you are along for the ride (like when you are falling rather than walking across a surface), and you don’t really have time to stop to figure out what to do next. During those moments it’s all about reflex.

Putting your heads together to reach higher heights!

In terms of “filler”, Kalimba is fairly bare-bones. It almost seems as if “less is more” was the prevailing design philosophy when the game was created, as each level unfolds with little fanfare. While that sounds boring, it is anything but, as the game-play definitely shines in this instance thanks to each level having a unique design filled with goodies to collect and environmental triggers that help your totem pals along. New mechanics are introduced regularly to keep players entertained – and the lack of lengthy cut-scenes and overly-wordy dialogue makes for a refreshing and speedy pace. However, this speedy pace can be one’s undoing, as impatience will inspire mistakes (trust me – when gravity starts to change the rules, I regretted rushing into things).

The game is chock-full of re-playability‎, thanks to its interesting level of difficulty. It’s not usually an issue to finish a level – it is, however, far more difficult to finish a level and meet all of the bonus objectives. I found it nearly impossible to preserve a flawless life count the first time through any level. Instead, the first round through would be “just to get through it”, while observing the subtleties of the death-dealing and the devious placement of booty. The next time through would end up being a far better run, due to learning from previous failures. Co-op game-play introduces two pairs of dual-stacked totems – each stacked pair of totems is controlled by a different player, and each pair has the ability to perform the double-jump. While the autonomy of each player may feel like an advantage, there are some argument-inducing areas of the game in which communication between players is key.

Double jump? What about a group quad jump?

Visually, the game is vivid and colorful, with a cartoon-like design that is based around triangular shapes. While some of the graphical elements have something of an intricate design, the overall feeling is oddly natural. Thanks to the simplicity of the graphics, the animation is very smooth. The characters shoot about like nobody’s business and their faces speak of the pickles that they find themselves in (there are some great emotions conveyed by these little totems). Sound effects follow the visuals in their zaniness, and the soundtrack is suitably tribal and fun. This is one of those games that you’re not really going to get tired of looking at or listening to, anyway, as you’ll be too busy trying to figure out how to get past wherever you happen to get stuck. One of the best features in the “sights and sounds” category is the game’s narrator, Hoebear, who constantly steals the show. His calm, cool, and collected demeanor is pretty fantastic, and he reminds me a little bit of an amalgam of Buddy Ebsen and Waylon Jennings – in a bear’s body, of course.

Press Play has created another great title in Kalimba. The single-player mode is fun on it’s own, and will have you returning again and again to try and perfect each level. Couch co-op is fun in a different way, encouraging you to work with a friend to solve some very challenging puzzles. Kalimba is available for $9.99 on Xbox Live – a small price to pay for such a great experience.

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